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Robuchon at his restaurant L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Manhattan, on Oct. 23, 2017; the chef reached 32 Michelin stars
Sasha Maslov—The New York Times/Redux

Lièvre à La Royale–that’s the dish I remember from my first time at Joël Robuchon’s Jamin. It was 1982, so the restaurant was still new. He had only the one Michelin star. By the time Robuchon died on Aug. 6 at age 73, he had won more than 30.

In the classic version of the dish, wild hare is rolled and stuffed with foie gras and truffles. But Robuchon had shredded the meat and made the dish more subtle. It was still classical but reinvented. That’s what he would become known for: reinventing French cuisine while respecting its traditions.

He was known to be very demanding; if you chose to go work with him, you knew it wasn’t going to be a family-style restaurant. It was a no-pain, no-gain kind of place. But the cooks I know who worked for him say the experience was worth it. Universally, chefs have extreme respect for what he represented: perfection.

When Robuchon retired at age 50, it was a shock. It was a very gutsy move, but it enabled him to reinvent himself in 2003 with L’Atelier, which was more casual and accessible. But he wasn’t done with Michelin-style cooking; the attention to detail at his Las Vegas restaurant, for example, was incredible to experience.

Food writer Patricia Wells called him the most important chef of the 20th century. She was right.

Boulud is a French chef and restaurateur

This appears in the August 20, 2018 issue of TIME.

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